BMG execs say KSI could emulate Stormzy and AJ Tracey in UK rap

BMG execs say KSI could emulate Stormzy and AJ Tracey in UK rap

BMG’s Jamie Nelson has told Music Week that KSI can sit alongside the likes of Stormzy and AJ Tracey as the label roll out their plan to break the YouTube star as a rapper.

KSI stars on the cover of the new edition of Music Week, and used his interview to send a message to the music business: “Accept me, or get left behind”.

All week, he’s been battling against The 1975 and their fourth album Notes On A Conditional Form for pole position in the albums chart, declaring that he would shave his head if his Dissimulation record took top spot. That prompted the #baldski hash tag, which spread across social media.

As part of our KSI story, we caught up with Premier League Entertainment boss Mams Taylor, who manages the rapper, and Jamie Nelson and Lisa Wilkinson of UK label BMG, who are working on the project with US partners RBC.

Nelson, VP, recordings and senior marketing manager Wilkinson praised the collaborative efforts of BMG’s UK team, noting the efforts of A&Rs Tashan Radtke and Emmanuel Olowojoba in setting up the Houdini single, which became the second KSI track to crack the Top 10 during lockdown.

Here, Nelson and Wilkinson tell us more about a campaign unlike any other in UK rap…

Where does KSI fit into the UK scene? 

Jamie Nelson: “He’s got this phenomenal, mainstream reach and he fits into a pretty straightforward area for me. If you look at AJ Tracey through to Stormzy, across the board you’re seeing young people connecting with that music and I see he fits in there, the people that stream that music will also stream KSI. It’s a reflection of the audience where he’s come from on YouTube as well. As we continue to put music out, you’ll see those music opportunities grow further.”

Lisa Wilkinson: “It’s reflected in the success we’ve had with Houdini, if he sticks to making great pop/hip-hop crossover with great hooks and he keeps developing and learning from the artists he’s working with, that’s where he’s going to fit.”

How much of an anomaly is this project?

JN: “It is for the minute but at the end of the day, it’s just about reach. Once you’ve got reach and an audience, the rest depends on how good your music is and how important that connection is with the audience. It doesn’t surprise me in many ways to see a project come through this route. The next stage is just continuation, dropping exciting music to develop that side of what he’s doing.”

 Once you’ve got reach and an audience, the rest depends on how good your music is 

Jamie Nelson, BMG

Have there been stumbling blocks in terms of finding support across radio and DSPs?

JN: “There were probably elements that were maybe a bit slower at radio, but we’re really starting to see that convert now. People are seeing we’re consistently delivering hits with KSI, as the music evolves and there’s more relevant UK collaborations and connections, then you can sense those records are feeling more relevant and giving us bigger results.

LW: “We’re listening to feedback we’re getting from the market and developing accordingly. KSI works really, really hard and this is something he takes incredibly seriously. Maybe one of the barriers we had right at the start was the market wondering if music is something he’s trying his hand at, or something he’s really serious about. Now they’re starting to appreciate that this is something he takes incredibly seriously.”

He doesn’t go overboard in trying to overly galvanise his fanbase

Lisa Wilkinson, BMG

How can you maximise KSI’s fanbase?

LW: “We’ve been really careful we’re not seen to be doing anything different than any other artist would be doing in terms of the content and how we’re providing it. He really doesn’t go overboard in trying to overly galvanise his huge fanbase, he’ll put the product out there and promote it, but he wants to make sure it doesn’t feel like we’re just pulling in the massive amounts of followers he has on other platforms for other forms of entertainment and that the fanbase we’re building is real. We don’t want to feel like we’ve got any fake fans. We’ve tried to employ a marketing strategy that we would do with any other developing artist. We’re incredibly lucky that he has a really engaged fanbase. Not all of those people will be be fans of his music, or even be interested in music, they might be gamers, it’s not something that we know. We can only do what we can to make sure the fans that he has are there for the right reasons. We’re using best practices across socials and DSPs to develop the relationship with them and get on the right playlists. It’s almost to KSI’s detriment that he’s so wary of looking like he’s over-promoting to his fanbase because it’s so big.”

BMG is nominated in the Artist Marketing, Catalogue Marketing, Publisher and Record Company categories at the Music Week Awards 2020.

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